Knowledge, Understanding and Enjoyment!
On the 18th January Royal Insitute of British Architects (RIBA) library opened its doors to twenty-four excited CILIP members to nose through their collections and spaces and to meet their teams.
We were welcomed into RIBA’s learning space, where Jeremy Crumplin, Cataloguer and the main event organiser, gave us a brief history of the 1834 established institute. We learnt that the library and its collections were core to the founding principles of RIBA which acts as a national learning resource rather than an institutional collection.
Knowledge, understanding and enjoyment are the three key values of the institution and the exciting and informative schedule the team had planned for us held true to all three of these.
Our first peek at the collection came from Head of Collections Kent Rawlinson who had the hard task of selecting ten key items to introduce us to from the four million held by RIBA. Kent chose materials to showcase the variety of holdings on offer. The ten items spanned sketchbooks, models, rare annotated books, lecture notes and photos, yet what they all offered above all was an insight into the thoughts and working practices of the people who made them. These items brought home Kent’s view that the RIBA collection is "a collection of architectural ideas".
Information Services Manager, Karen Wilman, gave us a tour of the main collection area and galleries overlooking it. We learnt that the interior of the main book shelf area was inspired by 1930s cruise liner and nautical design, thanks to the Trans-Atlantic, pond-hopping adventures of the original interior designer. Unique features included underfloor heating and heated pillars at the end of the book shelves.
The unique nature of RIBA’s Information Centre, was also quite an eye opener. Library staff take queries of all aspects of RIBA work, from serious Institute membership questions to TV researchers asking what an architect might wear or do!! Unpredictable doesn’t seem to cover it. It’s also great to know that thanks to the collection’s designated museum status, the RIBA library is free for all to visit and use, once you register and sign in and the enquiry desk.
Meeting up with Jeremy again we moved on to look at some rare and interesting books. We got to get our hands on a variety of texts including a beautiful copy of The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones, a rather fun Frank Lloyd Wright popup book and the, oh so cute, smallest book in the library which lives, for safe keeping, above Jeremy’s desk.
Next Curator of Photographs Valeria Carullo gave us a taster of the 1.6 million (Approx.) RIBA photograph collection which covers social, biographical, interior and architectural images. While some parts of the RIBA collections are stored elsewhere, including the V&A, photographs are all stored within the building at Portland Place.
Storing and making the Photographs accessible poses a number of challenges not least differences in international copyright legislation. This doesn’t stop the team's good work though and they’re busier than ever as there’s been a boost in donations to the collection in the last thirty to forty years.
RIBA’s Architecture Periodicals Index (API) is such an important and useful resource for students and researchers. It was really interesting to hear, from Managing Editor Brian Glover, how the index reflects the developments in architectural publishing. A humble team of 3 create 10,000 records a year for this unique index!! Publications indexed span 150 countries and the index is still growing.
The majority of indexed material is held in the library, with an exception of a small amount of trace/ghost records, where over the years, the collection had been reduced, but the records remained. Most excellent of all, this impressive index can be accessed freely via the online RIBA catalogue.
Next we were introduced to Head of Learning Laura Southall, the head of a team of four education specialists at RIBA. Laura and her team offer a variety of cultural events and educational visits for adults and children alike - see www.architecture.com/learning .The team formed in September 2015 and already have an impressive programme on offer (we all had a hard time keeping our hands off the jelly babies holding together some exciting looking models in the room).
Catherine Gregg, Editorial Officer of the Banister Fletcher Project, introduced us to a collaborative project between RIBA, Bloomsbury and University of London to create a new, interactive e-book/e-resource developed from Sir Banister Fletcher's History of Architecture. Murray Fraser from The Bartlett, UCL, will be general editor. Individual chapters on different styles of architecture and architectural themes have been commissioned, currently being written by experts in each area, with tools and resources being developed to include feature buildings, timelines and images. The e-book is due to be published 2017, simultaneously in and print and online.
Our last talk of the day came from Imaging Services Manager Jonathan Makepeace who explained the great work that the RIBApix team are carrying out. With their new Digital Asset Management tool they’ve been able to integrate a webshop facility which allows users to select, purchase and get their image framed all in one place.
The RIBApix collection has three routes for acquisition; digitization programmes; digitisation on demand (requests from users) and submissions from photographers who have signed up through RIBA’s very own photography agency.
For students and those in education all the images can be used for free with a watermark.
It’s safe to say that RIBA has something for everyone, we will be back for sure whether as a visitor at a cultural event, with our librarian hats on to look at the collections, online for research or maybe to buy some nice framed prints of those lovely photos we got to see first-hand.
Kate Squire & Sara Hafeez (University of Westminster)